Sequenced DNA from 209 cats that lived between 15,000 and 3,700 years ago, unearthed from more than 30 archaeological sites in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, led scientists to the conclusion that our purring family members were first domesticated in the Near East and Egypt some 15,000 years ago, before spreading across the globe. Cats might have been independently domesticated in China a century later.
The Ecology Global Network estimates that there are about 600 million small cats in the world. This includes pets, strays, homeless and feral cats. They outnumber dogs, man’s supposedly best friend, by roughly 75 million across the globe.
Like dogs, cats probably in part domesticated themselves spreading through early agricultural communities, attracted by abundant rodents that were in turn attracted by stored grains. These early farmers might have recognized at an early stage that providing a home for small wild cats could be beneficial in protecting food storages. Cats probably provided similar services on board ships, keeping the mice and rat population in check. As whiskered seafarers they conquered the world alongside man.
Like man, however, free-roaming cats have become an environmental menace. They massacre billions of birds, small mammals and reptiles. Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella, authors of Cat Wars, write: “more birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats than from wind turbines, automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windows, and other so-called direct anthropogenic causes combined.”
Cats are in most parts of the world an invasive species that has no place in nature. Their ecosystem is the indoor human household.
Of course the above is not a cat problem, but a people problem and no cat deserves to die because of irresponsible ‘care’-takers.
In the lush green area of the Jardín Botánico de Valencia the stray cats of this Spanish city have found shelter, but undoubtedly also pose a threat to real wild animals attracted to this urban oasis.
There is however another cat haven in Valencia where the strays still render their old service as mausers in the sheds alongside the wharfs. The accompanying photos were taken in the port area of Valencia, where the cats are feral and formidable, but loved by the dockworkers.